Best Linux distros for 2013
There are plenty of free Linux flavours to choose from: we help you pick the right one
Linux has never been more popular. Free operating systems based on the open-source kernel and applications are a great way to take control of your PC, or breathe new life into old hardware.
We've taken all the major distributions for a test-drive, so read on to discover our favourites, and to see which is right for you.
The best known flavour of Linux, Ubuntu is designed to be easy for beginners to use. It's simple to install, it comes with a full suite of applications, and it uses the distinctive Unity interface, which puts your applications right at the side of the screen.
A new version of Ubuntu is released every six months, and every two years the developer releases a long-term support (LTS) edition, which receives free support and updates for five years. So whether you're a tinkerer wanting to stay at the cutting edge, or a business seeking long-term stability, Ubuntu is well worth a look.
Linux Mint 15
The underlying code of Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, so it supports the same wide range of applications and devices. And it comes with more applications and components pre-installed: the idea is to make a Linux operating system that's completely usable straight out of the box.
The key difference between Mint and Ubuntu is the interface. Mint gives you the choice of two desktop managers, but whichever you choose the experience is much closer to Windows, and to other Linux distributions, than the Unity launcher. That makes it an appealing option if you don't get on with the Ubuntu desktop.
Mint also differs from Ubuntu in not encouraging users to upgrade regularly, so it's best for those who like to keep things stable.
Fedora uses a quirky desktop interface that emphasises open space. The application launcher and search interface are hidden by default, and appear only when you move the mouse to the corner of the screen, or click a discreet icon. It looks neat, and helps you focus on your work.
The bundled software package isn’t the most generous we’ve seen, but it’s easy to install the applications you need. Overall, Fedora is an accessible distribution for those who like to keep things minimal.
openSUSE, like Linux Mint, offers a choice of two desktop interfaces – in this case the classic KDE and Gnome desktops. It also comes with the distinctive YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) program, which offers extensive configuration options for the whole system. Another nice touch is the availability of themed software collections, so you can install multiple programs that work together with a single click.
openSUSE is a stable and flexible Linux distribution that will suit slightly more technical users who are comfortable configuring their own hardware and software.